Sonoma County reports four new COVID-19 deaths

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Sonoma County reported four deaths attributable to COVID-19 on Friday, making this the deadliest week of the coronavirus pandemic here since the beginning of March.

“We’re not through this,” county Supervisor Chris Coursey said at a public health briefing Friday afternoon. “Despite all this progress we’ve made in our COVID vaccination campaign, the pandemic is not over in Sonoma County — or elsewhere. The recent increases in cases and hospitalizations stand as a stark reminder that the virus and the variants are still circulating throughout our community.”

As of Friday, Sonoma County has a rolling seven-day average of 5.2 new cases a day per 100,000 people — the state rate is 3.3 — and a test positivity rate of 3.1%. Sonoma County’s case rate puts it among the worst in the Bay Area, along with Contra Costa and Solano counties, though it is faring better than Mendocino County, about 6%, and Lake County, about 10%, to the north.

Sonoma County’s case rate has ticked up from 4 per 100,000 since June 15, and the positivity rate from 2%, county epidemiologist Kate Pack said. That’s when California Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the statewide health order and fully reopened most sectors of the economy.

Even more troubling, county Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said, there are currently 44 COVID patients in local hospitals, including 13 in intensive care. That ICU number is the highest in Sonoma County since February.

“The numbers are trending in the wrong direction,” Mase said.

And most disconcerting of all was Friday’s announcement of four deaths related to the coronavirus. That makes five for the week — the county recorded one fatality Wednesday — a spate of COVID deaths unseen here since there were five the first week of March, which had represented the end of the deadly winter surge.

It isn’t known whether any of the new deaths were the result of the spreading delta variant of the coronavirus. The county has acquired genetic sequencing machinery, but is still sending samples to a state lab while staff is trained on the new equipment. It takes at least two weeks to get results back from the state.

The five county residents in question died between June 30 and July 6. All of them were men. (Mase said that likely was a coincidence, though 53% of the county’s women are vaccinated, compared to 47% of the men.) All were 45 or older — though one of the men was under 50 — and all died in a hospital. They bring Sonoma County’s coronavirus death toll to 323.

One of the recent deaths stands out, though. That man was fully immunized, the second case of a vaccinated individual dying of COVID in this county. To date, there have been 337 “breakthrough cases” of fully vaccinated people acquiring the virus, Pack said.

Mase and other health professionals on Friday’s Zoom briefing insisted that is no reason to doubt the effectiveness of the three vaccines currently authorized for use in the United States.

The vaccinated patient was at least 90 years old and had significant underlying conditions, Mase noted. She declined to offer any additional information on the deceased. The county’s previous vaccinated COVID fatality, she said, was in the same age range.

Others said the vast majority of currently hospitalized COVID patients, and all of those in the ICU, are unvaccinated. The daily case rate for fully vaccinated people in Sonoma County is 1 per 100,000 residents, Pack said. For the unvaccinated, it’s 11 per 100,000.

The decision about whether to get vaccinated should be an easy one, according to Dr. Catherine Gutfreund, a family physician who is in charge of Kaiser Permanente’s Mercury Way medical offices.

“When you look at the percentage of patients who get COVID who are not vaccinated, compared to new cases among those who are vaccinated, it’s no comparison at all,” Gutfreund said. “And there’s no vaccine that’s 100%. The flu vaccine is about 50% effective, but we still recommend it, because it reduces hospitalizations and illness. The vast majority who get COVID who were vaccinated have mild cases.”

The recent bump in virus rates has caused Gutfreund to alter her advice to patients — and to modify her own behavior. She is back to recommending masks and social distancing in certain situations, and among certain people, such as a young patient with a rheumatoid disorder she just consulted.

“I have to say, my family went out to dinner once (when the health order expired), and I remember going into Home Depot once without a mask,” Gutfreund said. “But the past week, I said, ‘You know what? It’s not hard to wear a mask.’ And you can color-coordinate with your outfit.”

Over the past two weeks, county staff said, they have identified 13 coronavirus cases in three senior residential care facilities — eight among staff, five among residents. Seven of the 13 infected people had been vaccinated.

Despite all the troubling harbingers, Mase has no current plans to institute another health order that would, for example, limit capacity in movie theaters or restaurants.

“At this time, we are aligning with (California’s Department of Public Health) and don’t have any intention to pursue any specific action,” the health officer said, referring to guidance from the state public health department. “However, we are following the data closely, and we will be in close touch with our supervisors to see if we need to do more to protect the community.”

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or On Twitter @Skinny_Post.

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world, go here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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